Chief: Parents must be models for kids on use of alcohol

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Thursday, April 12, 2012
— Troy Knudson still has the look in the mother's eyes etched in his memory.

As a young deputy with the Rock County Sheriff's Office, he had pulled over a teenage girl who had been drinking. He took the "flower child who was born 20 years too late" home to her parents, who were grateful and even OK with the ticket, he said.

When Knudson issued follow-up paperwork to the girl the next day, she talked to him like they were old friends. She had been drinking again, so Knudson took her home to her parents, who again treated him like family.

A week later, he responded to a rollover accident.

The girl's body extended out of the driver's side front window and was pinned underneath the car.

"It was clear she wasn't going to survive that," he said. "It was my first fatal accident."

He got out of the car with a chaplain at her parents' house, and her mother locked eyes with Knudson. After a quick glance at the chaplain's collar, the mother looked back at Knudson and knew.

He had to take her parents to the morgue to make a positive identification of the body using a tattoo on her left shoulder.

"I can't think of too much good to come of that case, but if we get that information out there, and understand just how extreme these outcomes can be, maybe there's some good that can come of it," said Knudson, now a sheriff's commander and the president of the Parkview School District.

His story opened a community town hall meeting on underage drinking and drug abuse Wednesday night at Villa Pizza in Orfordville. About 25 parents, school staff, community members and students gathered for information and discussion.

Students in the Parkview district took the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the first time this year, and Dean of Students Benjamin Heninger presented the results.

Five Parkview middle school students and 53 high school students reported binge drinking, classified by the CDC as four or more drinks on a single occasion, in the last 30 days, he said. In the last 30 days, 41 percent of high school students and 11 percent of middle school students reported drinking alcohol, the survey found.

Of tobacco use among high-schoolers, 3 percent said they smoke cigarettes, 20 percent said they chew tobacco and 17 percent said they smoke cigars. It's not a surprise, Heninger said, but one in five high school students chew, and it's not just boys.

"It's very destructive, especially for young students using it," he said.

Only 62 percent of parents think it's wrong for youth to use alcohol, he said.

Orfordville Police Chief Dave Wickstrum emphasized the message has to start at home. When he brings underage drinkers home to parents, sometimes the response is, "Beer? Oh thank God it's not crack."

Wisconsin's culture and its law, which allows kids to drink with their parents in public, encourages underage drinking, he said. Parents provide alcohol to kids in their homes so they won't drink and drive, he said.

"What do you relay to your kids? What example do you set?" he said.

"I'm not saying if you're a parent you shouldn't drink. I'm saying that you need to explain to your kids why you do drink, what you drink and why they can't," he said. "You gotta hold firm."

Last updated: 8:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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